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Summary Judgment Denied as to Adequacy of U.S. Trustee’s FOIA Search

Posted on February 3rd, 2017

foia searchIn Wisdom v. United States Trustee Program, Case No. 15-1821 (District of Columbia, Jan. 13, 2017), Plaintiff filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2011, and Jeremy Gugino was appointed the Chapter 7 trustee of Plaintiff’s case. Gugino and Plaintiff had a contentious relationship, and in 2013, Plaintiff filed an adversary proceeding in his bankruptcy case, accusing Gugino of mishandling the case. Gugino later resigned as a trustee.

Over a year later, Plaintiff submitted a FOIA request to Defendant seeking records related to his bankruptcy proceeding or related to Gugino’s service as a trustee. The FOIA request said it pertained only to records located in the District of Idaho, where the bankruptcy was filed, and declared a willingness to pay up to $450 in processing fees. He obtained a tracking number from Defendant, but after a significant amount of back and forth and what Plaintiff deemed to be obstruction of his access to records, Plaintiff received some records and then submitted another FOIA request for documents pertaining to his previous FOIA request. He also filed suit against Defendant alleging that Defendant unlawfully withheld and redacted documents relevant to his initial request and failed to turn over the documents in a timely manner. Both parties filed summary judgment motions.

As to Plaintiff’s first FOIA request, Defendant certified that it had identified seven custodians in the Boise, ID office of the United States Trustee for Region 18. These custodians then searched the Boise office’s shared computer drive and their own individual hard drives and personal drives for the terms “Gugino,” “Wisdom,” and “blanket bond,” as well as for the relevant case numbers. Another employee also manually searched the hard copy trustee oversight file but not any of the bankruptcy case files, which had been moved. As to the second FOIA request, similar procedures were performed.

The court noted that the standard for satisfying a FOIA request is that the producing party must, at minimum, confirm that “it has searched all files likely to contain relevant documents.” Although Defendant showed that its search was thorough, it did not provide a detailed affidavit averring that all files likely to contain responsive documents were searched. Because Defendant did not submit any such affidavit, the court found that questions of material fact did exist, and therefore, summary judgment was not proper for either party.

ILS – Plaintiff eDiscovery Experts

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